NEW YORK — Quiet time was difficult to find this season for R.A. Dickey, whose incredible season spawned untold amounts of daily attention. But in a relatively quiet corner of Marlins Ballpark’s visiting dugout during the final week of the season, Dickey spoke about what the National League Cy Young Award would mean not only to him, but to baseball’s century-old fraternity of knuckleballers.
“To say that a knuckleballer won the Cy Young,” Dickey said, “maybe it brings some real validity to what the pitch can do.”
That validity has arrived. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Wednesday named Dickey the 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner, lifting him over finalists Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers and Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals.
Dickey, who was named first on 27 of the 32 ballots and was in the top two on every ballot, became the first knuckleballer to win the award. He tallied 209 points to pull away from Kershaw (96) and Gonzalez (93).
“I’m kind of speechless, believe it or not, in the moment,” Dickey said on MLB Network. “It’s a real honor, obviously being mentioned in the same breath as some of the best pitchers not only in history, but this year. Clayton and Gio were both just supernatural in the way that they performed.”
Dickey may not have been a completely unassailable choice, but he was statistically the strongest candidate. Becoming the Mets’ first 20-game winner in more than two decades, Dickey led the Senior Circuit in strikeouts, innings, complete games and shutouts, and ranked second in wins and ERA.
Through it all, he expended the legend that began when he joined the Mets early in 2010 as an apparent Minor League burnout. Dickey became a best-selling author in 2012, writing an autobiography that chronicled his slog through the Minors and his history as a sexual abuse victim. He climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for charity. He starred in a documentary.
And Dickey pitched, arguably better than any knuckleballer in history. Often throwing his signature pitch at speeds in excess of 80 mph, Dickey flummoxed hitters with multiple variations of it, visibly improving at the age of 37.
Firing consecutive one-hitters during his best stretch of the summer in June, Dickey set a franchise record with 32 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, later extending that to 44 2/3 innings without an earned run. Seven times he struck out at least 10 batters in a game, including a career-high 13 in his 20th victory on Sept. 27 — a game that appeared to lock up the NL Cy Young Award for him.
Any thoughts of Dickey fading down the stretch evaporated when he went 5-2 with a 2.34 ERA over his final nine starts. After the last of them, Dickey revealed that he had been pitching since April with a torn abdominal muscle, which he had surgically repaired last month.
As if this story needed another chapter.
In winning the game’s most prestigious pitching award, Dickey became the Mets’ third Cy Young Award winner and their first since Dwight Gooden in 1985. Tom Seaver won three times for the Mets, in 1969, ’73 and ’75.
“I saw R.A. pitch at least 10 times this year,” Gooden said. “I’m really amazed how he was able to remake his career. I never even thought about throwing a knuckleball. To win the Cy Young Award at his age is more incredible than when I won at age 20.”
Said Seaver: “I was always looking for new ammunition to bring to the mound so I attempted the knuckleball. It’s a very difficult pitch to throw and needless to say, I never mastered it. I congratulate him on his tenacity, not only to succeed against all odds but to excel and achieve this very high honor. I look forward to congratulating him personally.”
And if New Yorkers have their way, Dickey will be back for an encore in 2013. The Mets recently exercised the $5 million team option on his contract for next season and are in the process of negotiating a long-term extension with the knuckleballer. But Dickey’s name has also swirled in trade rumors as the Mets look to improve upon other aspects of their rebuilding club.